PHILADELPHIA — If Charlie Manuel is right, Pennsylvania is about to see a spike in babies named “Trea.”
That’s what happened when rugged second baseman Chase Utley rose to mythical status as one of the best Phillies in the team’s Golden Era. The name “Chase“ tripled in popularity in the Keystone State.
Manuel managed or coached Jim Thome, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Bryce Harper, but only Utley is regarded with reverence reserved for heroes and saints.
Manuel believes the newest Philadelphia superstar will be similarly revered.
“Trea Turner?” Manuel said Thursday. “Hell, he’s Philadelphia’s next Chase Utley.”
Turner in December signed a $300 million contract to be the Phillies shortstop for the next 11 years. He has become an instant sensation, like Thome in 2002 and Harper in 2019, and he has used this spring training and the World Baseball Classic to tease his new fans. Not that they needed titillation.
Turner was an All-Star the last two seasons with the Nationals and Dodgers, when he hit .312 with an .858 OPS, 49 home runs, 177 RBIs, and 59 stolen bases — the most complete player in the non-Ohtani category. He has never quite reached the potency Utley showed from 2005-09, but his speed — at 29, he remains among the fastest players in the game — and his superior defense might make Turner just as valuable as Utley, if not more.
Turner doesn’t dispute that they have a lot in common, and he doesn’t shrink from the comparison.
“He’s a good guy to be compared to,” Turner said after Thursday’s game, his first day back at camp from the two-week international tournament. “I don’t know Chase very well. But I know he’s a baseball player. I know he’s a tough, tough guy. I know he keeps his head down. He likes to compete. Play every day. Play as much as you can. Be out there for your teammates and the fans.”
Turner rubbed the back of his sweaty head.
“I believe those things about myself.”
‘A one-two punch’
Philly fans knew what they were getting when Turner signed, and they represented with their wallets. Season ticket sales increased by 50%, from around 10,000 to 15,000, after the Phillies added Turner to the team that won the National League pennant last year. It’s impossible to credit Turner for all of that revenue, but merchandise provides more precise metrics.
No Phillie since Utley was as hot as Harper since Harper signed a $330 million deal in 2019. Turner is turning into Bryce Harper 2.0.
“When we signed Trea, it was immediate,” said Howard Smith, the team’s vice president of business affairs. “Harper’s an annuity — he continues to sell. T-shirts? We’ve sold thousands and thousands of Harper, and they keep selling. Jersey — same thing, across the spectrum of jerseys.
“Turner came in, and it was a 1-2 punch. It was incredible. He probably did about 75% of name and number T-shirts. Jerseys? Almost one-third. It was immediate.”
Smith is a Philly native, and he swelled with pride at the Philly fans’ savvy.
“They’d never really seen him. He showed up for that one press conference. But they knew this guy is a great player,” Smith said. “He’s playing the right position. It’s amazing. The fans. They knew. It was absolutely perfect.”
Then, he started playing in the World Baseball Classic. All of his WBC gear sold out.
Turner led all WBC players with five home runs in six games, which tied the tournament record. He was second with 11 RBIs, and his 1.483 OPS was second among players who played at least five games. He also embraced the dramatic:
He hit what he called the biggest home run of his career to push Team USA past Venezuela and into the semifinals. His grand slam in the eighth inning turned a 7-5 deficit into a 9-7 quarterfinal win.
He dominated the biggest story in professional sports for two weeks. Turner could not have had a better introduction to Philly.
“You can produce in spring training, and even if you go absolutely crazy, people take it with a grain of salt,” Rhys Hoskins said. “What separates his was the magnitude of the stage.”
Of course, in Turner’s first game back with the team, he hit a towering home run. Seriously.
With rule changes to speed play, earlier start times, and various marketing initiatives, baseball needs more Trea Turners.
“There’s so much talk about what’s good and what’s not good for the game right now. I think that performance and that style of play, that’s what’s best for the game. That’s what grows it the fastest. That’s what grows it the most pure,” Hoskins said. “That’s what makes people fall in love with the game, but also fall in love with you as a player. To do it on a stage like that is pretty freakin’ cool.”
It should provide Turner a long honeymoon in a town notorious for its fickleness. After all, it took only a month for Harper to get booed.
Bring it on, Turner said.
“I’m excited to play in front of them. I’m going to play bad. I’m going to play good,” Turner said. “Look, I’ve been booed. I say, ‘If you don’t like it, play better.’ ”
That sounds a lot like something Chase Utley would say.